I had never heard of Fred Rogers until I saw the trailer for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. For more than 30 years, he was one of the foremost children’s TV personalities in the US.

Multiple generations grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and learning from his teaching. I got into television because I hated it so,” Rogers said in 2000. Rather than simply complaining, he pursued the more difficult path of trying to transform TV. I thought … there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen.” 

Rogers described the producers and purveyors” of mass media as servants of this nation” and chose to become one of them in order to serve the nation’s children. He referred to himself not as in television” but as in the field of child development”, partnering with child psychologist Margaret McFarland to bring a focus on children’s social and emotional needs.

Rogers also used his celebrity’ to be a voice for others, for example defending public television in a 1969 testimony before Congress that still trends online whenever the topic is raised in US politics or media discussion. In his speech he talks about the need for children to believe that feelings – both good and bad – are mentionable and manageable”. It’s an insight into mental health that still resonates today, when one in four adults and one in 10 children experience mental illness.


Rogers was also an ordained Presbyterian minister but rather than talking about television from a pulpit, he brought his faith to a secular work environment. When film director Marielle Heller compared him to a priest who takes confessions, Rogers’ widow confirmed that first and foremost, he was a minister”. 

He saw television as his mission field – a sacred ground” – and referred to his work as the broadcasting of grace throughout the land”. This ministry was recognised by his church elders who regularly affirmed his ordination. It’s an encouraging story of a public leader recognised and supported by his church.

The impact Rogers has had on millions of Americans is clear. The comment section of his Lifetime Emmy Award acceptance speech on YouTube is the first I have ever experienced where a 10-minute scan results in only positive comments. These comments are written more than 20 years after he received the award and are full of stories of how Rogers was a father, counsellor, inspiration and encourager to Americans of incredibly disparate childhoods. 

This was clearly a man who brought his faith to his work every day, demonstrating the love of Jesus to millions and exemplifying the Christ who said, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14).

It’s interesting that a film about Rogers appears in cinemas at the same time as Just Mercy, another film with a faith-motivated protagonist. Bryan Stevenson, a death-row lawyer and campaigner who wrote a book about his work which the film is based upon, has said that My faith influences and shapes everything I do… [Micah 6] has framed the orientation that I have for work and in the kind of life I want to live”. I haven’t seen Just Mercy yet but I did read the book last year. Like Rogers, Stevenson sees his work as his testimony, his actions as his outworking of his beliefs. 

Were someone to look back at our lives, would they see lives of complaint and compromise or lives of restoration and transformation? We may not have a national television platform or won cases at the US Supreme Court, but our leadership can still be oriented by our faith. Whatever area of society we are leading in, let us be encouraged by these two examples of Christians who served and worshipped God through their service to others. May we be inspired to dedicate this year to exploring how the Holy Spirit may guide us in our leadership.

So, what about the film itself? Click here to read my review of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.